Why does a farmer in Indonesia harvest 0.5 Mt of coffee per ha, whereas in Vietnam they get 2-4 Mt? It’s not just geography and climate. Both countries face unpredictable weather fluctuations. Rather, it’s agricultural methods. As the governor of OKU Selatan District Popo Ali put it:

“Indonesians traditionally plant coffee and leave it till it’s time to harvest”

Admittedly, the access to plantations is harder in Indonesia, so farmers can’t go to their fields every day as they do in Vietnam. However, the Indonesian farmers who give up on traditional intuitive methods of coffee growing and learn how to properly fertilize, prune, graft, apply pesticides, rejuvenate and manage post-harvesting, easily double or triple their yields. This can be tracked in the record books of farmers who were recommended to keep such by Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS) experts as a part of a 10-module good agricultural practices (GAP) training.

The Indonesian team of agronomists recently spent a week in Buon Ma Thuot receiving an extensive training in GAP and visiting demo plots for practice. They came together with government representatives of Muaradua region in South Sumatra who had meetings with officials of  the provincial Department for Agriculture and Rural Develpment (DARD) and researchers from the Western Highlands Agroforestry Sciences & Technical Institute (WASI) looking for efficient solutions to boost Indonesian coffee production.

The training course for the Indonesian team was delivered by HRNS agronomists Mr. Mai Xuan Thong and Mr. Nguyen Truc Bong Son, and started with a detailed session on fertilization.

Indonesian agronomists mentioned that their farmers apply massive amounts of urea simply because it’s the cheapest fertilizer in the market. The trainers strongly discouraged from such approach:

“You don’t eat your weekly ration in one portion of a single type of food – the same should be avoided when fertilizing coffee”

Excessive fertilization leads to soil degradation. Natural fertilization or mixing humus and compost with chemical agents is the only way to keep the balance of chemical elements and minerals in the soil. During the session the trainers covered topics such as calculating the amount of fertilizer for different types of coffee and taking soil samples for analysis in a lab.

The rest of the program provided Indonesian agronomists with information on grafting, pruning  as well as tools for assessing coffee quality and measuring the yields. They visited demo plots of WASI and HRNS, Binh Minh cooperative where farmers recently piloted the Pyrolysis technology  for producing biochar in combination with drying coffee, and had a lot of opportunities to observe their Vietnamese peers’ gardens to get a better grasp of intercropping.